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Bridled Tern
photo by Adri Constantino

by Trinket Canlas

A small group of WBCP members recently spent several days in July assessing bird life in various mangrove areas in Southern Luzon as assistance for the World Bank.
Coordinated by Ivan Sarenas, the team made up of Ivan Sarenas, Nicky Icarangal, Adri Constantino, Leni Sutcliffe and Melanie Tan surveyed various sites in Masbate, Sorsogon and Camarines Sur, spending an average of four days at each site. These visits were spread over a three week period in July.

The team represented the WBCP in the assessment of several mangrove areas included in projects funded by the World Bank.  The projects focused on the alleviation of the effects of climate change by preparing local communities to adapt to anticipate changes brought about by climate change.  The World Bank had requested the assistance of the WBCP in including an avian wildlife survey as a component of these projects with the possibility of including this information for future projects in other locations.  During the trips, the overall project manager for the World Bank, Maya Villaluz joined the WBCP team.

Ivan Sarenas giving a lecture at Ticao
photo by Mel Tan

The first site which was surveyed was in Ticao Island, Masbate.  More popular in the tourist circles for diving in the Manta Ray Bowl, Ticao Island has  broad old growth mangrove forest.  The intact mangrove growth at the Bonsanglay Mangrove Natural Park was observed to support both Wandering Whistling-Duck and the endemic Philippine Duck. Overstaying (or early) migrant Grey-tailed Tattlers were also observed.  There was very little area covered by mudflats, but there were several isolated sandy beaches which could serve as foraging areas for migratory birds.  The team also visited nearby Tatus Island, where they came across large numbers of, not birds, but Banded Sea Kraits, a docile but deadly sea-dwelling reptile.

The second survey site was in Gubat, Sorsogon.  Here, the birders observed extensive mudflats and reforested mangrove areas in two baranggays. Notable sightings included overstaying or early migrant Grey-tailed Tattlers, Whimbrels and Common Redshanks.  Rufous Night-herons and Purple Herons were observed feeding at fish cages.  These sites were tagged as possible locations to include in the annual Asian Waterbird Census.  On an extension trip from the coast of Bulusan, the team travelled by bangka for over an hour to the San Bernardino Islands in Biri, Northern Samar.  The rough seas made the approach to the rocky coastline of the islands difficult and birding was done from the wobbly bangka.  En route to the islands, the birders spotted a Great Crested Tern and a Frigatebird in flight. These islands are uninhabited, and an abandoned lighthouse dominates the landscape.

Bridled Terns
photo by Adri Constantino

The birders were pleasantly surprised by the large numbers of Bridled Terns and Black-naped Terns on the islands. The Bridled Tern is described in the Kennedy guide as a rare resident of rocky offshore islets, and an estimated 220 indiviuals were seen at this location.  The islands seemed to support nesting colonies of either or both Bridled and Black-naped Terns.  This is a possible new recorded nesting site of the Bridled Tern.  Sadly, a man from a small bangka anchored offshore was observed to swim up to the nests and was seen collecting the tern eggs, gathering them in a small net. The birders’ boatman related that tern eggs are regularly gathered from the islands.  Since these species’ nesting sites are uncommon in the Philippines, measures should be taken to protect this colony.  Another notable observation was Eastern Reef Egrets in both white- and dark-phases.  According to Records Committee head, Arne Jensen, it is unusual to observe birds in both phases at one site.

The final leg of the survey was in Caramoan, Camarines Sur.  Unfortunately, the WBCP survey team arrived in Caramoan just a day ahead of Tropical Storm Juaning which slammed the Bicol region with strong winds and rain, leaving most of the areas flooded and roads impassable. Due to the bad weather, the birders were only able to spend a day-and-a-half out of their total five-day stay birding.  They were unfazed by the weather and as soon as the tropical storm warnings were lifted, the birders made full use of the time they had remaining on the trip.  They were able to bird at the mangrove areas in 3 baranggays.  Again, they observed overstaying or early migrants including Greater Sand Plovers, Common Greenshanks, Grey-tailed Tattlers and other undientified plovers.  Four tern species were also seen:  Black-naped Terns, Whiskered Terns and again the rare Bridled Terns and another Great-Crested Tern.  A lifer for many of them was a single Brown Noddy, which is possibly a new island record.  Rufous hornbills were also seen in the forests adjacent to the coastal areas

Bridled Tern and Great Crested Tern IN CARAMOAN ISLANDS
photo by Adri Constantino

It is important to take note that these surveys were done outside the migration period, and the habitats were observed to have great potential for hosting large numbers of migrants.  Hopefully, the results of these bird life assessments will emphasize the importance of including such data in future projects.  Kudos to the WBCP members who volunteered to take part in these initial surveys for the World Bank Projects.

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